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Famous Sedona Red Rock Formations: Bell Rock vs. Cathedral Rock

Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock are the two most iconic red rock formations in Sedona Arizona.

While names of the red rocks are descriptive to varying degrees, there’s no doubt in your mind when you see Bell Rock which one you’re looking at. It sits just to the North of Hwy 179, between the Village of Oak Creek and Sedona, a giant Hershey’s Kiss plopped down right next to the highway. It’s often the first formation that visitors can actually get out and touch, since Hwy 179 is a major access route from I-17 to Sedona, and the crowds that pull over in the busy seasons to stroll along its base or take photos can get quite thick.

Photo: Cathedral Rock at sunset, reflecting in Oak Creek.

Bell Rock is also one of the most prominent Sedona vortex sites. A vortex, if you’re given to this sort of perspective, is a swirling concentration of energy emanating from the earth that can have any number of attributes, depending on what kind of vortex it is and who you talk to. Some categorize vortexes (or vortices, whatever floats your boat) as male, female or balanced, and claim that their energy can affect the human consciousness and even one’s physical body.

Bell Rock’s vortex and it’s movie-star good looks made it a prime gathering spot during 1987’s Harmonic Convergence, when Sedona experienced a convergence of about 5,000 visitors at once (the town itself is home to only about 10,000), a good portion of whom gathered on and around Bell Rock one night in the hopes of some kind of extraterrestrial event. While the top failed to flip open and produce a UFO that particular evening, it was still a turning point for the culture and economy of Sedona, putting the community on the map for a host of New Age enthusiasts and a broader market of tourists.

Cathedral Rock reflects into the waters of Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, Sedona, Arizona.Cathedral Rock reflects into the waters of Oak Creek at Red Rock Crossing, Sedona, Arizona.

Like most of the bright red and orange formations in Sedona, Bell Rock is part of the Schnebly Hill formation of sandstone and limestone, deposited at the bottom of an inland sea hundreds of millions of years ago. The “youngest” rock you’ll find on Bell Rock is the Fort Apache limestone at the top, a mere 272 million years old, give or take a few million. The shape of the rock is the work of wind and water over the course of several millions of years after the sea receded.

Hiking and Biking

Because of the several flat, wide pathways easily accessible from different points off the highway, Bell Rock is a very popular spot for casual strollers who don't want to go trekking over hill and dale but still want a close encounter with the red rock landscape. Those willing to go the extra mile (literally) however, will be rewarded with less-populated trails and lovely views of the surrounding scenery.

Bell Rock Pathway is part of a larger system called Courthouse Loop, a flat (only 200 feet elevation change) five-mile trail that gives you excellent views of several interesting formations. If you do the whole loop you'll see nifty smaller formations like the tall, slender "Rabbit Ears" and the squat, oddly uniform "Spaceship Rock." Bell Rock Pathway itself is more or less flat, traveling along the base of Bell Rock on the South Side. Off the pathway is Bell Rock Trail, which allows you to climb up part of Bell Rock itself. Mountain bikers find the path good for a beginner or as a warm up for more experienced riders, as it connects with other more demanding trails at several points.

Article by Sarah Horton.


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